The Unending Creep Of The Unspecified Scope


This is part 5 of a six part series titled “Frustrations of the Data Analyst Life…And How To Fix Them

So who are we dealing with here?

I call them the Lieutenant Columbo’s. The folks who, when they get exactly what they asked for, always find “just one more thing” to stick onto the request.

The cheeky little addition with a wink emoji on the email.

Room for a little one? ROFL. LOL. Cheers mate.

Just a “quick easy one that won’t take you too long” as they completely revise the whole thing you and the team have spent a week working on and they had never mentioned at any stage of the requirements gathering process.


As a species we always want more.

We’re hardwired to it and just as entrenched in the general corporate drone’s DNA is the complete inability to cover off every eventuality for what they actually need at the point when they are supposed to ask for it.

Can I learn how to put a stop to scope creep?

I’ve read countless articles from freelancing and consulting experts who set out specific ways to gather requirements, set milestones and project plan using Agile or Lean methodologies.

Anything to ensure scope creep doesn’t derail the profitability of an assignment or a project.

In my own experience, building a robust work request and requirements gathering process is one of the main tasks for an analytics manager if they want to reduce scope creep.

Discovery is everything.

Making sure it works equally well for both the business stakeholders and the analytics team is the difficult part.

Wearing many hats

Leading that process will see you become, interchangeably, at a moment’s notice:

  • The font of all business knowledge (even for the requestor’s own business area)
  • Their therapist (like Dr. Frasier Crane, you’ll be listening and spill their guts they shall)
  • Their priest (see the therapist but now you offer absolution and penance, lots and lots of penance)
  • Their prophet (seeing into the short, medium and long term future for any possible changes that can derail your whole plan).

It’s not a job for the faint of heart but by doing it properly you’ll deliver one of the main gifts you can bestow on your analyst team:

The gift of effective air support against unnecessary internal attack PLUS a well specced out, signed off set of requirements to work to.

If you half ass it at this point it will keep biting your own ass and that of your team potentially for weeks or months ahead.

Pay it forward to yourself. Future You thanks you kindly.

What Do You Do If The Inevitable Creep Happens Though?

I quoted Rob Collie and Avichal Singh in Frustration #1 and am considering getting their line tattooed across my front, Tupac-style, just so it’s always close at hand:

“Human beings do not know what they need until they have seen what they asked for”.

No exaggerating but that is the quote I’ve been waiting for my whole working life when it comes to dealing with business users in a service capacity.

The hardest part is overcoming your natural hatred of their guts for derailing your whole perfectly planned process and having to go back a few steps before you can go forward.

How do we deal with it though if it’s pretty much inevitable?

Best I can say is to prepare yourself for a Phase 2 to every request and view it as a necessary iterative step to getting your customer to the place they really need to go.

We all want a successful outcome, sometimes it just takes a little longer to work our meandering way there than we might want.

This applies doubly if you’re in a team which is under the cosh constantly in terms of fending off an inordinate amount of MI requests.

Sometimes we can be victims of our own success but it’s no reason to half-ass a job just to get it cleared off the stack early.

One step at a time

If you view the first initial customer-led request as the first draft and the analyst-led discovery stage as the second, there is no reason not to take a third pass once the analysis has been completed and see what we have learned and can further dig into.

Write it up as a new request by all means to bump your numbers if it makes you feel better but don’t shy away from it – provided you did your job correctly in the requirements gathering phase.

If you didn’t, you really have no-one to blame but yourself.

-> Read Frustrations #6: But This Is The Way We’ve Always Done It